Friday, July 12, 2013

You Can Say "Monkeying Around" but Not "Orangutaning Around"

We need more road rage like this.
Humor is subjective. And, for some people, it evolves over time.

When I reflect on the things I once thought were funny — dare I say hi-LAR-ious — frankly, I cringe.

One of the high points of hilarity for me was, at one time, the orangutan. Apparently, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, many other people did, too.

Can't argue with the orangutan's place in the comedic animal kingdom. You can snap a cute pic of a dog, cat, even a walrus, but only an orangutan can do a number of things that (most) humans do — walk, fart, crack open a beer — but do them all in a funnier way than, say, your hirsute Aunt Hilda, because it's an orangutan!

Once my brother and I outgrew Disney cartoons, my mother transferred the movie-chaperoning duties to my father. (After we'd return home, my father would then describe to my mother the film we'd just seen, and his explanation always ran longer than the actual movie.)

Sometime in 1981, when I was either 9 or 10, as we departed the theater for a film I can't exactly remember — I perused the Wikipedia list of American releases from that year in order to make this anecdote as accurate as possible; maybe it was the original Clash of the Titans (it certainly wasn't My Dinner With Andre!) — we noticed that they'd already changed the marquee for the following week's releases.

One of the new releases was a film called Going Ape! (the exclamation point is part of the title), and my brother and I were disappointed because we would rather have seen that instead of whatever it was that we'd just watched. (Dad took us to a movie maybe once a month, if we were lucky, unlike the way I am with my own kids today, looking for any excuse to get the hell out of the house and kill a couple of hours.)

With the magic of the Internet I've been able to satisfy many of decades-long nostalgic longings, like using an emulator to play any Atari 2600 game or watch cartoons that I'd forgotten even existed, but I never actually had the urge to track down and watch Going Ape!

But on that night in 1981, I couldn't think of anything else...

Here's the cast of Going Ape!, clearly a who's-who of Academy Award material:
  • Tony Danza
  • Danny DeVito
  • Jessica Walter
  • A trio of orangutans
I didn't know who Jessica Walter was, and I wasn't much of a fan of Taxi, which for a sitcom was kind of depressing when Latka wasn't on screen, so you can guess what appealed to me.

Here's the trailer, a version of which likely got me as excited as the episode of Real People or That's Incredible! that was about to air:

I do recall that my brother and I were big fans of the pair of Clint Eastwood orangutan films, Every Which Way but Loose and Any Which Way You Can. Those two flicks came out in 1978 and 1980, respectively, so there's a chance that we had a chance to see a butchered TV edit of at least the former; perhaps that's what got us interested in the orangutan oeuvre.

As a result of the scant research I employ as I write these posts, I discovered the following bits of related information, revelations so thrilling that I'm sharing them in a bulleted list:

  • Every Which Way but Loose was written by Jeremy Joe Kronsberg.
  • Any Which Way You Can, the sequel, was written by someone else but Kronsberg secured the "characters by" credit.
  • Going Ape! was written and directed by Kronsberg, as if he finally said, "Let me show you how you're supposed to direct a movie with orangutans!" 
  • Jessica Walter, later of Archer and Arrested Development fame, appeared as Clint Eastwood's lover-turned-stalker in Play Misty for Me, and in Going Ape!, meaning she was in a movie with Clint and in a movie orangutans, but not in a movie that had both Clint and an orangutans.

He must like orangutans. By the time I looked him up on Wikipedia, I was disappointed to learn only that his entire bio was:
Jeremy Joe Kronsberg is an American film director, producer and screenwriter best known for such films as Every Which Way but Loose, Any Which Way You Can and Going Ape!
Which, by this point, I already knew. "[S]uch films as" usually means there's a longer list of credits, but IMDB mentions only those three, along with soundtrack credits for three productions I've never heard of — though one of them, 1973's The Outfit, with Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker and based on a novel by one of my favorite authors, Donald E. Westlake, does sound promising.

But wait! There's a piece of "trivia" listed:
Often referred to as the godfather of the modern ape chase movie. 
I guess there are worse epitaphs one could have.

I wanted to know what the guy looked like, but a Google image search just turned up images from the films, along with the unrelated detritus that turns up in those searches, as well this poster for the Spanish-language version of Going Ape!, from an eBay auction:

¡Dios mío!
I think ¡Voy a Volverme Mico! — which roughly translates to I Will Become a Monkey!  is a way-cooler title.

Meanwhile, I couldn't find much additional information on Kronsberg, other than a recent, serendipitous Tweet...
...that mentioned that he actually trained the apes (no surprise), along with an article from eight years ago about an only-in-Malibu environmental issue pitted Kronsberg against the Foundation for the Junior Blind over the organization's desire to expand its summer camp, a situation Kronsberg called "a blueprint for environmental ruin."

Here are some fun details I learned from the article, all of which would make an interesting film even if there were no apes involved:
  • Kronsberg is described as a "retired screenwriter and director," but no credits other than the Eastwood-orangutan collaborations are mentioned. Unless there are other credits that IMDB is unaware of, I picture Kronsberg finishing his last scene on Going Ape! and announcing, "That's it! I'm done! There is no way to top this, so I'm retiring!"
  • Don't think that just because Kronsberg lives in Malibu, it's a world of champagne and egg-white omelets: On his property he lives in a mobile home and "hunts for wild mushrooms and ponders the comings and goings of coyotes, bobcats and red-shouldered hawks." He's also (at least in 2005) "a 67-year-old bodybuilding buff who still pumps iron in an old stone cabin beside the creek."
  • The organization he's opposing (blind children!) calls him a "phony Thoreau." ZING. 
  • The article concludes with an image (no photo, alas) of a defiant Kronsberg, "standing stubbornly in his forest, surrounded by "No trespassing" signs, his eyes swollen with poison oak."

In the summer of 1983, during the TV doldrums of reruns and crap, a series of promos for a show for the upcoming season appeared on NBC. And here is why they invented the Internet:

I was 12, and like most 12-year-olds I thought there was nothing cooler than a talking ape. After all, I'd outgrown burping apes; it was time for a ape humor that was a bit more sophisticated.

I never did call Dial-an-Ape, though, because I was terrified of the punishment for making a 50-cent phone call (never mind that this year my son bought 20 bucks' worth of "refill money" for one of his scammy iPhone apps before I added password protection).

Anyway, this was for a show called Mr. Smith, which was about an ape that became super-intelligent enough to talk but not smart enough to hire writers that could craft a show lasting more than 13 episodes. The ape was portrayed by "Clyde" from the Eastwood films, but there's no mention of whether Kronsberg had any artistic/ape-training input. This was two years after Going Ape!, however, so maybe he was already retired.

(I watched just one episode. Mr. Smith didn't really talk that much, and once you got over the novelty of an orangutan in business attire, it was just the standard "we've got a secret experiment that we can't let the public know about, and there's an evil scientist trying to expose it" kind of show.)

A couple of years later, NBC would roll out ALF. It was probably easier to make a sitcom with a talking puppet that looked like an ape, than a sitcom with an actual ape that "talked."

Years later I'd be reminded of Mr. Smith during one of the best scenes of one of the best classic episodes of The Simpsons, "Deep Space Homer":

I think I've exhausted my discussion on the subject the apes that I once found amusing. The scary thing is, I didn't realize I had that much to say about it!

No comments:

Post a Comment